ChatGPT: Goldmine or Minefield for Indie Hackers?

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Everybody in the indie founder community is talking about ChatGPT. Some founders discover how powerful it is as a writing tool, others have it build their products, and some entrepreneurs are even building businesses on top of OpenAI’s conversational chat-based AI. Beyond that, it’s a meme now: everyone is talking about how everyone is talking about it.

It’s taking the business world by storm, and where there’s change, there is also opportunity. And risk. Potentially massive risk.

A warning: just like most of the things ChatGPT hallucinates, none of what I will talk about here is truth. It’s future talk — a prediction at best. I’ve seen a few things come and go, and I believe that what follows is a likely scenario, but it is a prognosis nonetheless. And another thing: while I talk about ChatGPT specifically, we’ll see new versions and variations show up over time. I’m referring to the whole lot, not just what we get to work with right now.

Let’s gaze into the crystal ball.

Here’s what a future with ChatGPT will (very likely) mean for you as an indie founder, your business, and the reality of your customers.

Experience this article as a podcast, a YouTube show, or as a newsletter:

ChatGPT and You


You just found a co-founder that never sleeps. No matter how much you involve ChatGPT in your life, it will always be available. Rare downtime windows excluded, conversational AI will be as ubiquitous as “the internet” very soon.

Virtual Agency

And while it is already a two-sided chat, it will soon become so much more: once ChatGPT becomes an agent that can interact with the live internet —through reading or posting to websites, making calls, or moving files around, you will have a digital demon ready to do your bidding —anything it can possibly do for you— within milliseconds of you uttering your wishes.

As OpenAI rolls out the plugin ecosystem, more and more ChatGPT-powered tools will remove obstacles from our days. From personal scheduling through negotiating and booking customer interviews to helping you solve business strategy problems, you’ll likely always check in with ChatGPT first.

The interesting challenge will be to learn where and when ChatGPT can’t be relied upon. The conversational AI is effectively a gaslighting machine —it is trained to create believable and convincingly detailed responses to any question— which means you’ll need to be careful with anything the system tells you to do. At some point, you’ll need to involve an actual human being to ensure you’re not just blindly following the whisperings of the ghost in the machine.

Command & Conquer

And that will be defining competency of a whole generation: judging the commands for and results of an interaction with conversational AI systems.

It’s a skill, just like using Google.

Using ChatGPT is yet another skill, so don’t miss out on it. Those who ignored Search Engine Optimization struggle to keep up with being visible on the internet. Even if you learn just the basics of SEO, you’ll quickly outrank those who don’t. Conversational AI will be just the same.

Understand it as a tool that facilitates the transformation of data. It’s an always-on assistant that is effectively free and growing more powerful daily. Why would you not learn to use such a powerful tool?

One thing is obvious, though. Things will change incredibly fast. They already do. Barely four months passed between ChatGPT’s release in November 2022 and the arrival of the massively improved GPT-4 in March. The interfaces are changing, the prompts we use to communicate are shifting, and new mind-bending use cases are discovered daily.

It’s almost impossible to keep up with the best practices as they evolve every day. I personally “80/20” this: I check in regularly with the newest developments, but I don’t waste my time staying “on the edge.” I have more pressing things to do. And I recommend not over-investing your time into this, either.

ChatGPT and Your Business

Because the speed at which the landscape changes is a problem: we can’t build long-term businesses on constantly fluctuating technology. Sure, we can exploit the massive surge of interest now, but nobody enjoys building a business that lasts a few months before another quantum leap makes it obsolete.

So, is all lost? Should we just ignore this business opportunity?

Let’s see.

The One Thing

There is one massive benefit to ChatGPT: it’s a platform that drastically lowers the barrier to entry and empowers non-technical founders to build incredibly complex software prototypes.

But there is also an extremely problematic drawback to ChatGPT: it’s a platform that drastically lowers the barrier to entry and empowers non-technical founders to build incredibly complex software prototypes.

Let’s dive into the dual nature of each argument here:

  1. It lowers the barrier to entry. Even at its current early incarnation, ChatGPT will happily converse with you about the steps you need to take to come up with business ideas, validate them in your market of choice, and how to turn them into a sustainable business. After all, the AI has read all the books and articles on the subject. It has never been easier to get up to speed on what to do to get started. The problem: ChatGPT has this very conversation, right now, with another eager founder-to-be. It is becoming easier for everyone.
  2. It makes software prototypes incredibly easy to build. Now, no-code made prototyping very easy already. But ChatGPT might even remove this abstraction. ****It will speed up prototyping even more. An example? I don’t know how to code Swift, but I wanted to build a little tool that would automatically back up my SD cards whenever I plugged them into my Mac. I asked ChatGPT to help me write the code for this tool. Line by line, the AI told me where to download XCode, how to create the new project, and then fed me exactly what code to put into which file. Fifteen minutes later, I clicked “Run” and had a working version of what I wanted. Now, I’m a developer, and I grasp these things quickly. I could swiftly take it from here and add In-App-Purchases to turn this into a business. But even a non-coder can reach the prototype stage within hours—real products, not just pitch decks. ChatGPT is powerful. So expect competition even earlier than ever before.
  3. It’s a platform. Building on top of ChatGPT (using its API or building plugins for it) is a massive opportunity for first movers and creates an equally massive platform risk over time. You will probably get a lot of attention when you’re the first to build a particular AI-powered tool, but expect it not to last for too long. Between competitors eating into your profits and OpenAI being in complete control of just how much (and if at all) you can use their interfaces, you’re constantly exposed to more risk than if you could run an AI like this on your own infrastructure. Monetize accordingly: charge upfront instead of over time, diversify as much as you can, and actively watch open-source implementations to see if you can spin them up yourself as a backup should you ever be de-platformed.

Well, this is sobering. Maybe AI isn’t a good fit for bootstrappers at all?

Build With, not On

Here’s the way out: make AI an ingredient, not a dish. AI-as-a-feature will be the more sensitive long-term perspective rather than built-on-AI. If using an AI system improves your overall product, it becomes less of a liability and more of an amplification engine. Not everything needs to be AI-based: not all work is “smart,” and some things benefit from simplicity and clear structures, which can traditionally be accomplished by straightforward software tools.

Now, how would one then evaluate this situation? What’s AI suitable for, and when should it be avoided?

The answer is “context.” Your product solves a specific problem among the many challenges that your customers have. Every software product is part of a specific workflow. Sales data goes in; a PDF report comes out. An unedited video file goes in, a ready-to-upload transcript and a download link to a subtitle file come out.

Your product is a value transformer. Anything that helps it transform the inputs into the outputs better is a good place to be enhanced by AI. But if you have to train your customers to use a new feature just because it “contains AI” —completely outside their existing workflow— you’re reducing their value perception of your product. Even if you think this new feature is great and will revolutionize how people work, you won’t likely convince more than a few early adopters. And that’s alright when you’re just starting out. But any sustainable business operates through sustainable practices. Understanding the value flow around your product’s real-world use is way more important than slapping the “AI-powered” sticker on the box.

Scribo, ergo sum

But no matter if you integrate AI into your product or just keep building traditional software, ChatGPT will be a helpful co-programmer. Its capacity to write code is just as impressive as its skill at composing compelling headlines, convincing articles, and even clever jokes.

When you pair up with a conversational AI, all writing will be much easier, which means you should most definitely write. Founders benefit immensely from communicating with their peers and customers through the written word. ChatGPT is a powerful catalyst for those of us who generally shy away from writing.

It has gotten really good at writing. So good that it’s already taking the jobs of experienced writers.

If a free AI tool can do that, not integrating it into your writing routine feels almost negligent. Sure, you should never use its output verbatim, but it can be an amazing brainstorming tool early in the process.

ChatGPT and Your Customers

And that, I believe, is its actual superpower. It might not be good at math, or it comes up with things that are entirely untrue, but the conversational nature of this AI system will make it a widely used companion for all kinds of activities. Obviously, copywriters will use it for fresh content ideas. But you’ll find a version of ChatGPT to find its way into doctor’s offices, therapist’s couches, and all over the fitness industry. We will see judicial applications just as much as there will be salespeople asking ChatGPT for the perfect pitch just before they walk up to someone’s front door.

It will be everywhere. And those things tend to be very hard to contain.

A Leaky Bucket (of World Domination)

It will leak into everything. We’re already experiencing ChatGPT taking over the world by storm. Over the recent Easter holidays, several of my peers reported chatting about ChatGPT with their non-technical relatives, and they knew about it already. It’s seeping into the professional world.

There’s a different kind of leaking happening here, too. The actual technical implementation and the weights of the Llama model —or, more simply, the code and configuration behind a research version of conversational AI— have been leaked, spurting a massive avalanche of open-source implementations. Once the cat is out of the bag, people will jump at the chance to build things. We will see this accelerate even further. Some projects have even been built and released into the open-source world voluntarily, like OpenAI’s Whisper — the tool that generates preliminary captions and transcripts for this very show.

Once people have the tools to train their own language models, we will see a Cambrian Explosion of AI diversity. We’ll have AI systems exclusively trained on decades of content from one particular community forum. Researchers will expose inherent biases stemming from how we select training data and figure out ways to un-bias the AIs of the future.

This development will be crucial to AI adoption. We need to move AI systems from centralized services —such as OpenAI’s highly opaque server cluster— towards the “edge:” our phones, tablets, and home computers. AI needs to be usable offline, and it needs to be air-gapped to the device it’s being used on. Otherwise, privacy regulators will make it unusable — and rightfully so. Samsung employees recently leaked trade secrets by using ChatGPT for their work tasks. No business will take this lightly: unless we can be absolutely sure that our inputs remain out of the hands of tech giants, we’ll see these tools banned swiftly. They are too alluring not to be regulated.

But once we can run a full ChatGPT on our phone, AI will allow for privacy-sensitive use cases. Businesses will run an on-premise version where business-critical confidential data is actively fed into the system to train models that can automatically suggest strategies, onboard new employees, and detect inefficiencies. In a way, that makes the models themselves a valuable item, not just the data. “AI model protection” will be a job. I can already imagine a James Bond movie where the villain is trying to steal the model — so they can be one step ahead of the secret service, which uses AI for threat detection.

Divide & Conquer

We’ll see models for all kinds of specific use cases pop up. This will strongly affect the meaning of “expertise.” The more AIs are trained on what’s already out there, the more general expertise will be absorbed into the AI systems of the future. What’s left for the human experts are all the non-generalizable things. You will become even more of a niche subject matter expert if you want to be able to provide more than ChatGPT and its successors can.

Dive into your niche. Nerd out without restraint. If AI systems have to appeal to a general public, you must lean into the not-so-general public of your fellow niche inhabitants.

How Not to Be Distracted

As you can probably tell, I am quite optimistic about this. Other voices —like LessWrong’s Eliezer Yudkowsky— are terrified of the AI systems of the future, and they have solid arguments to be cautious.

Realistically, we can debate AI’s usefulness and ethical implications for weeks. During those weeks, researchers will have made great strides toward better models. Clever entrepreneurs will have leveraged that technology to build something meaningful that others are willing to pay for.

Don’t let yourself be dragged away from the pragmatic nature of these tools because of all the hype (or the staunch dismissal of all things AI.) If you’re annoyed by AI because everyone is talking about it, you should ask yourself why this is such an important topic. Not all hype is unfounded, particularly when this isn’t something abstract: the tool is right there, and you can use it to write a book about anything within a few hours today.

That’s significant.

If you ever wanted to give in to your FOMO, this might be the best time to do it. Learn how to use ChatGPT for yourself and your business. AI will stick around, and if you understand it well, so will you.

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